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Archive for the ‘Higher education in general’ Category

Sending out an SOS

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

SOS Morse code

I know that no one reads this blog, but I feel obligated to inform all who might help, at least by signing the petition, that the situation at VU University Amsterdam’s Mathematical department isn’t very bright, as one can read in Tilman Bauer’s post on MathOverflow – Geometry section is about to be closed.

I haven’t signed the petition – I would feel too uncomfortable having my name and laughable title next to all the professors listed there.

I am sure many applied mathematicians share my opinion – both applied and pure mathematics have their place in the spectrum. Cutting the budget for pure mathematics (I can already hear the arguments: they are not productive, useful, blahblahblah) means shortsightedness.

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IMO & Google

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

IMO logo - knot theorist probably designed it

Google financed the organization of the International Mathematical Olympiad with $1,000,000 (link). Finally! Finally the market recognized the value of IMO. I usually frown upon attracting big sponsors to the world of science and education, commercializing it that way  – but in this case I will make an exception: Kudos, google!

Now, the problem of participating countries financing their trip and preparations of the team remains – we can just hope that after a global player has entered the game, local players will show some interest.

Respect their authoritah!

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Eric Cartman, PhD

You might recall my post named Latent fascism in education?

Yesterday I watched a talk show with an interesting topic: Corruption (bribery) in higher education. Two things caught my eye in a bad way, and one in a good way.

1. The students’ representative, president of the Students parliament kept saying that every possible case of bribery goes to the district attorney or the honor comity, while asking a person in the audience to stop exposing the bribing system – “please, don’t shake the authority of our professors”, he said. That is hypocrisy!

2. Now, what about the professor in the show? He pointed out that the bribery is inherent in every society, and that it is institutionalized in the US via high tuition fees – paying $42k in Harvard guarantees the student to pass the year – he claims that the percent of students failing to pass a school year in the US is less than 1%. After that he made a claim that the Yale dean said that when Yale professors give a student grade E, it is a sign to the employers not to give him/her the job. Oh yes, he also said that our senior year undergraduates are much better than those in top US universities and that we do much harder projects and write much more serious theses.

3. The young T.A. from a private university has told him that his every argument is false (grade E – at Yale?). His reply was that there is an E grade at every school in the US. After she said she graduated in the US, his reply was – maybe you graduated at a lousy institution such as University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

Is that a person whose authoritah I should respect?

PhD: home vs abroad

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Every now and then I reconsider my options for obtaining PhD degree in my home country and obtaining it abroad. As one could expect, the PhD program on my home institution is not what I would like to go through – even if we ignore the fact that I don’t want a PhD in engineering, it leaves an opportunity of changing the institution, staying in the same university – but the cost/utility ratio is extremely unfavorable in each case. Neighboring countries offer better PhD programs and the price is lower. I understand our principles, though – whoever enrolls these programs here, (s)he already secures the title in 3-4 years. Maybe I am being just bitter, but on one hand you have very expensive programs in your home country with no scholarship opportunities, and on the other hand there are excellent programs abroad, in the West – they cost much, but the scholarships earned thanks to academic excellence (I wonder whether our Minister of Education knows what that is?) and the fact that you work as a TA or an RA at the institution make it quite easy to cover all expenses. What would you choose?

Wrong answers and wrong questions

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

This post is a sequel to the previous: I have done some thinking concerning the question in my yesterday’s exam – it’s not just tricky, it’s conceptually wrong. Because of a mere typo in the problem statement (one minus omitted), the problem had no reasonable solution whatsoever. Now, the question is how to grade such an exam?

1. If you  give all students maximum points on the problem, then all will pass – exam loses its sense.

2. If you decide not to grade this problem, and double the points on the second problem, people concentrating on the wrong problem lose the chance to pass – it is clearly not fair.

3. Give full marks to students getting as far as they can with the wrong problem statement, give full marks to students who notice the error and try to correct it and give full marks to students who obtain the correct solution using the wrong problem statement (people trying to tweak the intuitive solution – based on the fact that the question has a trick hidden, as noted in my previous post – into the formal solution which by default does not make sense).

I would vote for 3. Now, there is one more question concerning grading exams I would like to ask:

How to grade an exam in which the student made an error while copying it in his/her exam notebook? It may be that (s)he either:

a) trivialized the problem that way

b) made the problem more complicated

c) problem difficulty remained the same

If a) is the case, most TAs simply grade it with a zero, but what about b) and c)? Again, there are three options – zero it, give full marks for a correct solution of the incorrect problem, or give almost full marks for a correct solution. Last two options mean more hard work for the TA, since (s)he has to go through a new problem and check the solution, but it is much more fair than the first option.

I stated my opinions above, because I felt the need to write it down – if anyone ever walks in this dark corner of World Wide Web and has an opinion about these questions – the “Leave a comment” link is somewhere on the left.

Tricky questions – why do we ask them?

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment
Asking tricky questions can be hazardous

XKCD (Randall Munroe)

Once I wrote this title, it reminded me of the brilliant xkcd cartoon (on the right). Although I enjoy talking about those ‘question-answer-truth-tellers-liars’ problems, this post doesn’t have anything to do with it.

I am going to write about exam questions which could be considered tricky. That kind of questions always made me feel uncomfortable – there are two reasons for that, depending on the motives of the person writing it:

1. People who ask those questions on purpose expect the students to find ‘the catch’ in it, and reduce the time needed for answering it, therefore giving the student enough time to solve other problems in the exam. So, ‘shoveling’ your way out of it may help, but it takes precious time.

2. On the other hand – the people who are not aware they are asking tricky questions (I see people asking tricky questions – they don’t even know the questions are tricky!) Those people inspired me to write this post. Imagine an exam, with a question worth 50% (and 50% is the threshold). The question is based on a simple physical law, which can be shown either by physical reasoning in 2 lines, or by pure mathematical reasoning – again, in two lines. But your TA expects a 2-page proof, and you know that he won’t take your perfectly logical solution based on the trick as correct.

Yes, I’ve written the long proof he wanted. But still, where is the sense in that?